Having two boys eight and five, it’s surprising that we haven’t made more trips to the ER than we have already. To be honest, each child has only had one ER visit each in the span of their lives. I think that’s pretty impressive for boys that come to me daily for kisses on bonked heads, knees and elbows. It’s funny my youngest actually had an ER visit before my oldest did. He thought it was a great idea to swallow a button battery. You can read that post here. My oldest had a terrible stomach virus that had him so dehydrated. We first went right to his regular doctor before she saw signs that he needed to be admitted immediately.
In both cases, my boys turned out fine, however, ER visits contribute to hefty bills for non-emergency services that could be handled elsewhere. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of affordable, convenient health care options – including urgent care, telemedicine, retail clinics and on-site work clinics – that provide on-demand services for a fraction of the price of an ER visit.
The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) wants to help educate patients about these options so they understand when to go to each, saving valuable time and money, your money!
It is important to identify whether the ailment is an emergency or just urgent. Swallowing a button battery, in my opinion, was an emergency. Due to what I’ve heard about button battery explosions in the esophagus, I knew he needed immediate help. A broken arm or leg would definitely be an emergency. However, a high temperature would simply be urgent, and urgent care clinics are better places to go often for half the cost.
So is your ailment Urgency or Emergency?
Today, the growing number of ER-alternative options is making it easier for patients to save money without sacrificing quality of care for non-emergency conditions. When selecting a health care provider, consider the three C’s: care, convenience, and cost.
- Care: Evaluate the severity of your symptoms and identify what services you may need. Life- or limb-threatening issues should always send you to the ER. Anything else can likely be treated elsewhere.
- Convenience: Know what healthcare facilities are available nearby, as well as their hours of operation, to determine the best option.
- Cost: Understand which providers are covered by your insurance, or if there are any requirements such as pre-authorization.
Selecting On-Demand Healthcare Options
Emergency departments are designed to handle the most serious life-threatening, emergency situations that require immediate attention. Emergency care can be costly for those with less acute illnesses or injuries, resulting in an average wait time of more than an hour and a much higher bill. A study in Health Affairs found about 13-27 percent of all emergency room visits could take place at an urgent care or retail clinic, which could save $4.4 billion in healthcare spending annually. This is your money that could remain in your pocket, and reduce the wait time in ER’s daily.
For less severe conditions, consider one of these ER-alternatives:
Urgent Care Center
Urgent care centers provide a robust spectrum of care for immediate but non-emergency or life-threatening situations, treating everything from the flu and broken bones to asthma and concussion screening. Urgent cares are equipped to handle illnesses and injuries requiring X-rays, intravenous fluids and on-site lab tests. Focused on convenience, urgent cares offer short wait times and affordable care, with services covered by most insurance providers.
Retail clinics, or walk-in clinics, are typically found in local supermarkets or pharmacies and offer a variety of wellness services for conditions less serious than those handled at urgent care centers or ERs. Retail clinics treat uncomplicated minor illnesses and provide preventative care such as vaccinations.
Telemedicine connects patients with providers for virtual visits regardless of distance, increasing access to care while reducing costs and travel time. I have used Amwell.com to refill a prescription when there was a wait to get in to see my doctor for over a month! I live in a small town which means everyone and their mother see the same doctor, which means long wait times to get in to see someone, even a nurse practitioner. Using Amwell, was easy even though they did not support my insurance at the time. (I haven’t logged on recently to see if they do now) I simply paid a $50 fee and got my prescription sent to my local pharmacy and it was easy!
Many healthcare organizations adopt telemedicine options to make better use of resources and reach a larger population of patients remotely. Urgent care centers, for example, use online telemedicine platforms to treat patients in rural communities, or for brief consultations and follow-ups that do not require in-person visits.
Many employers are now offering on-site clinics to their employees to increase access to health care. Similar to retail clinics, on-site clinics offer wellness and preventative services that vary per location.
Learn to Differentiate
Free-standing emergency rooms are facilities that are not attached to a hospital but often charge the same high cost of care found at the ER. These free-standing facilities are often mistaken for urgent care centers. Double check that the facility you choose offers the services and insurance or payment options that best suit your needs.
When seeking care for non-life or -limb threatening situations, patients should make sure that the facility they’re visiting identifies itself as an urgent care or immediate care center, and not as an emergency department. Patients can find a conveniently located urgent care center near them at www.whereisurgentcare.com.
About the Urgent Care Association of America
The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) is a membership association for urgent care health and management professionals, clinics and those who support the urgent care industry. UCAOA provides educational programs in clinical care and practice management has a monthly Journal of Urgent Care Medicine and maintains an active online presence and member community for daily exchange of best practices. UCAOA provides leadership, education, and resources for the successful practice of urgent care for its members. For more information visit www.ucaoa.org.
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